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4 Die in Naval Helicopter Crash

February 19, 1998

JOHNSONDALE, Calif. (AP) _ A naval helicopter crashed in central California’s Sequoia National Forest on Wednesday, killing at least four people, authorities said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Gutsch said the helicopter, from the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, ``basically burned to the ground″ after crashing near the Kern River in a remote section of the southern Sierra.

Earlier, Gutsch had reported that the manifest listed five people aboard the Huey, but he was unable to confirm that there was a fifth victim.

``The problem I have at this point is the helicopter was so burned we are able to identify four individuals,″ Gutsch said. ``That doesn’t mean a fifth one was not in there.″

Gutsch said a citizen saw the helicopter on the ground just before noon with smoke coming out of the aircraft.

``Then it burst into flames,″ he added.

The helicopter was fully engulfed in flames when California forestry, sheriff’s deputies and U.S. forest personnel arrived after the crash was reported at 12:28 p.m.

``We have no idea what caused the crash,″ Schutza said. Weather was clear and there was no wind, she added.

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